A Dockenfield group have labelled an energy firm “reckless” claiming their clearance work has threatened nesting birds and protected species.

In a week where over 350 organisations marched on Westminster to highlight the urgent need to protect nature, SSEN and its contractors carried out scrub removal and tree-cutting works on Bealeswood Common.

The beauty spot is an SNCI (Site of Nature Conservation Interest) and an area of ancient common land rich in wildlife and biodiversity.

Bealeswood Wildlife Recording Group have claimed the works have significantly impacted many bird species known to the group. They include protected species like the Common Firecrest and those in decline like Bullfinches, Dunnocks and Wrens.

A concerned resident rushed to notify the contractors of the nesting birds, but the work reputedly continued despite the alarm being raised.

While their numbers are not yet severe, Common Firecrests are listed as a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 with an estimated 2,000 left in the wild.

Blackthorn was also removed from a recorded place where the eggs of Brown Hairstreak Butterflies have been found: this is a species of principal importance under section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.

The group have estimated that seven species which either have legal protection or are identified as requiring conservation were damaged, disturbed or destroyed in the incident.

Their members have criticised Waverley Borough Council for not forcing SSEN to postpone the work until October and the end of the bird nesting season, as it would have caused less harm to wildlife.

A spokesperson for Waverley Borough Council said: “Whilst we were informed by SSEN prior to the work being carried out at Bealeswood, we were not made aware that this would include the clearing of scrub at such a sensitive time for nesting birds. 

“SSEN are a statutory undertaker and we hold no powers to refuse them permission to carry out works on our land, but we would expect any work undertaken to be done with due sensitivity to the habitats they are working in.”

In responding to the allegations, a spokesperson for Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks said: “SSEN carries out tree cutting and vegetation clearing works throughout the year to prevent supply issues and damage to the overhead electricity infrastructure.

“The clearances are also there to ensure a safe distance is maintained to avoid risk of injury to the public and landowners. 

“Ahead of any works, SSEN undertakes surveys by qualified staff in the area to minimise disruption to residents, wildlife and the wider environment, as well as seeking permission from local authorities.

“This permission would also include any stipulations regarding works or timings.

“As a considerate constructor, SSEN takes any complaints or concerns relating to the disruption of wildlife and the environment very seriously, and is carrying out a thorough internal investigation in relation to the complaint received.”

The clearance work was carried out as a preventative measure to protect overhead lines from possible falling branches or foliage.